How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby

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How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby. Reasons your little one gets overstimulated, how to avoid overstimulation, and how to help your overstimulated baby.

Mother holding a crying baby

Overstimulation is when your baby or child has basically had a sensory overload. The younger the baby, the easier it is to overstimulate her. Babies have never experiences most of the things happening around them; it is all new. Their senses are all receiving new information. Sights, sounds, touches, smells, and possibly tastes all impact your baby.

When your baby gets overstimulated, she will cry and will likely have a hard time falling asleep. She may rub her eyes, thrash around, and rub her face on anything she can get close enough to. Once she does fall asleep, she may not be able to stay asleep very well and will sleep fitfully. Crying and poor sleep are your main signs that infant was overstimulated.

Causes of an Overstimulated Baby

Here are a few common causes of overstimulation in the baby:

  • Awake Too Long: Keeping your baby awake too long causes overstimulation, and is probably the number one cause of it in the younger months. Make every effort to keep your child’s waketime at her optimal length. Baby needs to get down to sleep on time to avoid overstimulation. Baby sleep timing is very sensitive. See Waketime: Length, Extending, and Calculating and Optimal Waketime Lengths.
  • Held Too Long: “Too long” is going to be different for every baby. It is up to you to figure out how long is too long for your baby. This is less likely to be a problem when it is just you and baby at home. This is more of a problem when you are at a large gathering with many different people wanting to hold your baby. It also seems to be more of a problem for a baby older than 6 weeks than those younger. When you have a family or social function, watch your baby and intervene if you see the passing around from person to person is getting to be too much for her.
  • Too Much Activity: This can be too much noise, too much visual stimulation, too many new smells, etc. A sensory overload will overwhelm your baby. This is most likely to happen in the evening when the whole family is home and, again, at social functions. This can also happen if baby is at a certain toy too long. For example, our bouncer that we have is a kick and play bouncer. When baby kicks, it lights up and plays music. If a baby is in the bouncer too long, she becomes overstimulated.
  • Routine Disrupted: This is a capstone of all other reasons I listed. Baby isn’t getting naps as regular, baby’s meals might be off, baby isn’t getting any quiet time to herself, there are several cousins running around having a great time, etc. Things are different from usual and baby has a lot to take in.
Morning Routine Cards
Ultimate Back to School Planner
Overcoming the Mental Load of Motherhood
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
Morning Routine Cards
Ultimate Back to School Planner
Overcoming the Mental Load of Motherhood
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
Morning Routine Cards
Ultimate Back to School Planner
Overcoming the Mental Load of Motherhood
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide

Tips to Avoid an Overstimulated Baby

Unless you hide yourself in your house for several months, overstimulation is bound to happen. As mothers, we can feel really guilty for our little one getting to the point of overstimulated, but always remember that is life. Overstimulation happens.

With my babies, I try to avoid overstimulation as much as possible, but sometimes you have something important to be at. You might have a graduation, a wedding, a Christmas party, or something as simple as family in town to see the baby. We can’t avoid these situations, nor do we really want to.

Here are some ideas for avoiding overstimulation in such situations:

  • Give Baby a Break: Whenever I am at a social function like this, I take advantage of a diaper change or feeding to give my baby a break for a bit. I nurse my babies, so I will take them to a room where it is just the two of us. I will keep it quiet. After they are done nursing, I will change the diaper and then just let her lay for a moment. She can lay there in quiet without being held and just get a breather from everyone.
  • Allow for Sleep: If you can, have your baby take naps when she normally would. Most newborns will fall asleep in people’s arms. If that happens, allow it. Most babies will outgrow sleeping in people’s arms somewhere around 2-3 months. If your baby is at a point where she just won’t sleep in arms anymore, take her and put her somewhere she will sleep. It might be the carseat. It might be a bed in a room somewhere. Maybe a swing.

How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby. Reasons your little one gets overstimulated, how to avoid overstimulation, and how to help your overstimulated baby. 

How to Calm an Overstimulated Baby

Of course, even with our best intentions, baby can get overstimulated. Often times a newborn will basically shut down before overstimulation happens. They will appear to be asleep, but be more of in a neurological shut down. The nervous system protects itself and puts baby in a state of sleep.

Not all newborns do this though. Brayden was 6 weeks old for his first Independence Day. We went to the parade where he screamed and screamed. It was all too much for him. A nice lady told me I could go up on her porch to get further away from the parade, but he just wouldn’t calm down. I finally just took him home where he fell right asleep.

For Kaitlyn’s first Independence Day, she was close to 3 months old. She just went right to sleep for the entire parade. I put her in her car seat and she passed the parade in peace.

What do you do once overstimulation has happened? How do you deal with it? At the point of oversetimulation, baby is usually fussy if not fully crying.

  • Remove Baby From Stimulation: The first thing to do is remove baby from the situation that has her so stimulated. Take her to a quiet and possibly dark place.
  • Let Baby Cry: Babies blow off steam by crying. If she needs to cry, let her cry so she can get it out. You can hold her and just let her cry. When Brayden was a baby, we found it was good to lay him on our bed, hold his arms so he couldn’t startle himself with his moro reflex, and just let him cry. He would get his cry out, then look into our eyes and calm down. He has never been cuddly, so holding him was a bad idea when he was overstimulated–it just made it worse for him.
  • Learn Soothing Tricks for Baby: All babies are different. Perhaps when your baby is upset, a certain song is what will calm him best. Maybe he really needs a pacifier. He might like to be bounced. He might prefer to be swayed or rocked. A swaddle might be just the right thing. A sound machine might help block out offending noises. Try tricks out to see what works for him.
  • Sleep: Baby most likely needs sleep to get over the overstimulation. Get baby to sleep as fast as possible. Don’t expect baby to fall asleep on her own, either. This is a situation where you put baby in the swing or something to get her to fall asleep.When Kaitlyn was 2.5 months old, we went to a birthday party for my brother in law. Kaitlyn missed a nap altogether. I didn’t have her take the nap while there because Grandma was enjoying holding her, and Kaitlyn was beyond the point of sleeping in arms.When we got home that night, I put Kaitlyn in her bed. By that age, she didn’t ever cry before falling asleep. That night, she did cry. At first I thought she would just need to blow off some steam. We soon realized she was not going to fall asleep on her own. We moved her to the swing, which usually knocked her right out. In the swing, she cried for 20 minutes before falling asleep.It gets hard for babies to fall asleep once they are overstimulated, which is why I caution you against expecting her to do it. You can always try, but if it isn’t working, don’t force it. For church, Kaitlyn always missed a nap. She wouldn’t sleep in arms and wouldn’t sleep in the car seat at all. Up until about 6 months old or so, we would get home and put her right in the swing to sleep. At some point, they are old enough and experienced enough to go to sleep after being overstimulated, but be mindful in the early months.
  • Return to Schedule: Once baby has the sleep she needs, get her back on the schedule she needs. Also, watch her during following waketimes to see if he needs a shorter than usual waketime.

Please feel free to share any tips you have found to work for helping with overstimulation.

Related Posts:

How To Calm Your Overstimulated Baby. Reasons your little one gets overstimulated, how to avoid overstimulation, and how to help your overstimulated baby. 

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. The Shanks
    December 19, 2008 / 7:14 AM

    Again, I’m enjoying your is so helpful. As I read it today–I have a question about my 13 month old. For the past 2 weeks, when I lay her down for her morning nap–she cries and cries…and refuses to fall asleep. So, I have to admit..I gave up. she is only taking one nap a day now, usually from 1 to 3 pm. However…agh..the past three days she has been waking up after an hour of nap! What in the world is going on?! Do you think I should go back to trying to lay her down in the mornings? Or just stay with the afternoon naps? Isn’t this too early to be dropping the morning nap? If you have advice..i’d love it!

  2. Maureen
    December 19, 2008 / 8:20 AM

    I love this post. So thought-provoking. Many people don’t think about the stimulation babies get. It seems normal to them, so it should be normal to the baby. That example you gave of letting Brayden cry on the bed was really interesting. Looking back, we probably held William too much. I always thought that babies did better when held, but like Brayden, he is not a snuggly guy. Such an interesting idea. I will have to remember that for the next one! How do you come up with this stuff?!Also, I think a lot of the stimulation issue relates to the baby’s temperament. William has always been a social kid and loves to be around people. Lucas is the opposite. Recently, we were at a company Christmas party where he had missed his nap and everything was off. He was fussing but as soon as I took him into a quiet room, he settled down immediately. It was bizarre really. The other woman there with me commented on it. He was just tired of all the people and noises. He will also do well with a third catnap at the end of the day. I don’t think he necessarily needs the sleep, it’s just that he’s been up a while and he wants to be alone in the peace and quiet. Lucas is like me in so many ways (basically all of his genetic material is me while William is all his daddy) and even in this temperament issue we are the same. DH commented on the Christmas party incident saying, “wow, he really is like you isn’t he.”

  3. jillybean
    December 20, 2008 / 10:48 PM

    Two questions,First, I was wondering if you could address more specifically how to deal with the tantrums that a 20 month might begin to exhibit. I have read your post about mini-fits and have read Toddlerwise, but I’m still having trouble really getting a handle on this and conquering it. My daughter has been quite compliant and we have had training times at home, but now that she is so much more mobile I struggle with teaching her that she has to stand beside mommy. She is starting to go limp when I try to pick her up and direct her away from something. Besides having “training” sessions at home and role playing, I try to give her my expectations before we go somewhere and what the consequences will be if she doesn’t comply. Any suggestions and ideas would be helpful. I do not want a child that throws fits and I do believe that children are capable of standing beside their mother in public and they don’t have to run around freely. Second, a few posts ago you mentioned that you had a time in the morning where you sing together. We just recently got a piano and I’ve really had a hard time teaching my daughter that there are times when mommy just needs to practice and play and other times when she can play along. Have you ever had to set up boundaries like this and if so, how did you establish them? I want to be able to play, obviously, that’s why we got the piano, but if she’s awake then she’s trying to play along or push my hands off the keys so she can play. It’s very frustrating. At first, I tried to make it very black and white, if mommy was playing she was not to touch the keys. But more than other boundaries, like certain areas in the house or certain items she’s not supposed to touch, this seemed a really hard line to draw and I felt like I was being very mean and cold and pushing her away. Anyway, any posts or response back that you can give would be great. Thanks! Jillia

  4. MassageMama
    December 21, 2008 / 10:38 AM

    Jillybean “The Piano”I just got a piano 9 months ago and had the same problem with my daughter. A couple of things have worked for me. If she sees me sit down at the piano and comes over I will pull her up on my lap and let her play away before I start practicing. Usually, she will lose interest quickly if I just let her play and will be ready to move on to something else which will free me up to play uninterupted. If I just let her go at it for a few minutes then it is not the forbidden fruit and she loses interest faster; plus, my piano teacher also suggested allowing this because it will encourage her interest in the piano for the future when I eventually hope to have her take lessons. I also might play and sing the ABC song a couple times with her on my lap giving her my full attention. Usually, halfway through the third run through of ABCD…she’s over it and wants to go play and then I can play myself. The third thing I do is just wait until nap time and play while she naps. At first I thought it would be too loud and she wouldn’t be able to go to sleep but she does probably because piano music is so comforting I think. Hope this helps.

  5. CAM
    December 21, 2008 / 7:06 PM

    I have a question about something that I know you don’t have much experience with because you mentioned that in several posts…drastic time changes. We just flew from Germany to the states and there is a 7 hour time difference. My 4 month old is waking at midnight which is his normal waketime in Germany (7am) and then goes back to bed if I nurse him until around 3:30am and then back to sleep after nursing and then wakes again at 5am. I usually do not nurse him more than once in the middle of the night (usually around 4am). He has never woken this many times at night before. I really need sleep at this point (It’s been 3 nights of this, plus my 2 year old, who is sharing my room with me at my parent’s house, is waking at 3am and playing in her bed for hours.) I tried letting him cry himself back to sleep without intervention, but he would cry 45 mins, then sleep 45 mins, then cry 45 mins, etc. I was getting even less sleep that way. Should I just wait him out and keep nursing when he wakes and assume he’ll get back on schedule in a week or so? Any other advice? I read all your posts about time changes and such, but this is such a big change. I feel bad letting him cry when I know it’s not his fault that he’s waking up, his clock is just off. If it was just one long cry it wouldn’t be so bad, but every other 45 mins seems a little much.Kelle

  6. Belinda Letchford
    December 23, 2008 / 12:23 PM

    Great post. It got me thinking though – over stimulation isn’t limited to babies and toddlers – my kids are suffering too. I’ve built on your thoughts in my post.

  7. momtobobby
    December 28, 2008 / 6:55 PM

    I am going through this right now with Bobby. The holidays–starting with Thanksgiving–have been wreaking havoc on his schedule. He has been off schedule for about a month, due to the holidays, family get togethers and a 2 week bout of Croup!! It has been terrible! My husband and I have dedicated today and the rest of the week to getting him back on schedule. I am taking your advice and writing everything down, so I can review what his habits are. I will let you know how he does! Thanks so much!!!Tami

  8. Plowmanators
    December 29, 2008 / 10:42 PM

    Shanks, My guess is that she isn’t ready for one nap and is overstimulated by the time her one nap rolls around and is therefore waking up early. I would go back to two naps for sure. She might need a longer waketime in the morning before that one nap. See this post for more on this topic:Dropping the Morning Nap (from 2 to 1 naps): Transition Time :

  9. Plowmanators
    December 29, 2008 / 10:50 PM

    Maureen, the laying Brayden on the bed thing was 100% my husband. He just had the thought come to him one evening when Brayden was crying, tried it, and it always worked from then on. We could always tell Brayden was not a cuddly baby; my mom commented about it and noted how he was so similar to me as a baby in that way, but we still assumed he was a baby and therefore the best thing was to hold him. That is a good point about temperment. It is interesting that Lucas is the one who doesn’t like the loud people; often oldest children are that way simply because they aren’t used to it while younger children are accustomed to the rowdiness of their siblings. I wonder if he is an introvert? (by the way, my view of introvert/extrovert is that of the classic definition and not the connotations that have been placed with it. By introvert I simply mean he is energized by alone time, while extrovert would be energized by social time with people. My husband is an introvert and enjoys being around people and does great in social settings, but he likes his alone time to re-energize).

  10. Plowmanators
    December 29, 2008 / 10:53 PM

    That is up to you. For me, I would go check on him since it is out of the ordinary for him to be crying. I would want to access the situation and see if I can see any obvious reason for the waking. I would then take it from there, analyzing the reasons for waking and deciding if I needed to/should go in.

  11. bradysmom
    December 30, 2008 / 1:46 PM

    This is a great post and I found it to be very true on Christmas! We were so busy, and had people around so much. When you add that in with all the new toys, Brady got very overstimulated. I simply had Grandma take him upstairs to sit in his room and read a book for a little bit and he was good to go after that. But it is funny how people don’t buy into that. Everyone was commenting on why we had to take him upstairs. Oh well!!Thanks so much for your posts.

  12. Plowmanators
    December 31, 2008 / 4:42 AM

    Jillybean, You might have too high of expectations for a 20 month old. It is good to train her, but remember that at her age you can expect at best obedience 60% of the time. A 20 month old’s curiosity is going to be very strong in a store–there are many new things to see and explore. You have to be sure you aren’t giving more freedom than she can handle at this age. Just be consistent with the consequences. Tonight we were out shopping. Kaitlyn wanted to walk around. I kept her in the cart for 95% of the shopping trip, then let her out for the last bit. She was good and stayed by us. As we walked out of the store, I told her she could walk but she needed to hold my hand. She refused to hold my hand. I told her if she didn’t hold my hand, I would carry her. She still refused. So I picked her up and carried her to the vehicle. She was mad and cried, but it was the consequence of her choice. She will learn from it. One suggestion for the piano is to play it while she is in independent playtime or something. It wouldn’t be fair to expect her to stay away from the piano while she has no other activity she is supposed to be doing at the time. There are also the ideas from Massage Mama (thanks for your ideas!).

  13. Plowmanators
    December 31, 2008 / 4:58 AM

    Kelle,I am not sure what would be best for you to do. Perhaps by now he is on track (or you are back home?). My guess is he is waking so much because he is used to having waketime at that time of day rather than sleeping. If you are still in the US and still struggling with this, the best I could say is to wake him at the “right” time in the morning and have a normal routine throughout the day. Don’t let him go to bed earlier than he should. Good luck!

  14. Plowmanators
    January 3, 2009 / 11:49 PM

    Thanks Belinda. I actually wrote a toddler overstimulation post also 🙂

  15. Plowmanators
    January 3, 2009 / 11:50 PM

    Good luck Tami. I look forward to seeing how it goes.

  16. Plowmanators
    January 3, 2009 / 11:51 PM

    You are welcome Bradysmom! We also found this to be true with the disruptions. Good job doing what he needed 🙂

  17. Allison
    August 30, 2009 / 1:52 PM

    My 5 week old is having a lot of trouble with his daytime naps and I'm thining it could be overstimulation even though he's only up 45 min. I read your post about a "pattern" vs a schedule and for the past 3 days I've stuck to a REAL schedule. 6:45 (b/c of returning to work next week), 10, 1, 4, 7, 10. He sleeps great at night 10:30-4:00 and then 4:30-6:45(wake him).He goes down great after the 6:45am feeding, but we do very little awake time (30-40 min incl. feeding)…but I'm worried this isnt true to BW Eat/Awake/Sleep??? He will even calmly lay in his bed awake for 10-15 mintues, then fall asleep. But after that nap, he fights almost every nap. After that first morning nap, I try to do 45 min of awake time (again b/c i'm worried less isnt true to BW) but he has problems falling asleep or staying asleep (see explanations below). Should I do less than 45 min of original wake time (esp considering how well he does after the 6:45am feeding)?FALLING ASLEEP: For the last 3 days we've been CIO (we had been trying Shh-pat) when we put him down for naps…he oftens screams for an hour or more. (Ugh, it's so hard!) And if he never goes to sleep until the next feeding, we're then at HOURS of awake time! Do I still try to keep him awake after feeding & diaper change?STAYING ASLEEP: He'll often wake at 25-30 minutes. He hates the swing, bouncy seat, etc for more than 3-5 min…so those arent a sleep option. Sometimes I can get him up, calm him, walk around a few mintues, and then back to bed (sleepy awake), but again he only sleeps for 30min or so.At the end of the day, he will go down easy at 7pm (exhausted from not sleeping during the day probably). And as I mentioned, sleep well after that.

  18. Allison
    August 30, 2009 / 1:55 PM

    PS: How do you handle it when the grandparents question your decision to CIO? I had a big blowup with my mother about it yesterday. 🙁

  19. Plowmanators
    September 13, 2009 / 3:41 AM

    Allison, definitely shorten waketime if he is having a hard time falling asleep. Don't worry about that. He will lengthen out over time. As a newborn, they pretty much sleep all the time. I wouldn't let him cry that long. Here is my heirarchy of goals for a newborn and sleep:1-takes naps when it is naptime. This is your first priority. If baby isn't going to sleep after a certain amount of time, do what it takes to get him to sleep. Otherwise you create an overly tired situation and you just can't have success with CIO if baby is overly tired.2-Next, you want baby sleeping in his bed–not in a moving object or in someone's arms. So if you have to help him fall asleep, try to get him in his bed once he is asleep if possible. 3-Next, you want him to fall asleep on his own.Be sure there isn't a growth spurt going on causing him to not sleep long. These happen every 3-4 weeks and can last a week each time. The first few months are hectic :)If your parents can't be supportive about CIO, I would ask them to not be around during CIO sessions. It is hard enough to do without someone questioning you the whole time. You need someone to be supportive.

  20. Allie
    October 24, 2009 / 4:54 PM

    Allison, this situation is eerily similar to mine! And my name is Allison too! My baby is 7 weeks old, but everything else, including your schedule is exactly the same as mine! (Plus, my parents are supportive, thank God.)I have a follow-up question to plowmanator's response. We've been doing CIO for about a week with not much success. I'm going to troubleshoot with overstimulation/waketime length. But I guess I'm a little confused about how to do CIO. I thought I'm supposed to do everything I can to create the right conditions for him to fall asleep, and then he has to either sleep or cry alone in his crib until the next eating time. Before we started CIO, I was helping him to get back to sleep when he woke in the middle of his naps. I just could never progress beyond that point. So I thought that through CIO, I could teach him to get back to sleep on his own. Am I doing it wrong? Thanks for all your help by the way! You've saved me a lot of stress!

  21. Allie
    October 31, 2009 / 3:26 PM

    Update on CIO with my now 9-week old: he's doing so much better! He figured out how to suck on his hand/thumb to calm himself down when he wakes up in the middle of a nap, and most of the time can go back to sleep on his own! I'm so grateful to God for my awesome husband – he wouldn't let me give up on CIO until our "trial period" had finished (2 weeks.) It wasn't until the 10th day that we saw a change. Now I just miss my baby a lot because he sleeps all the time! He's only up for about 5 hours a day. Stick with it, friends!

  22. Plowmanators
    November 27, 2009 / 11:48 PM

    Allie,Thanks for sharing your success!

  23. Anonymous
    October 17, 2012 / 2:13 AM

    Hello, I have 4 week year old baby girl and am having a very difficult time with wake time, nap time and getting her to sleep at night. She either sleeps completely from feed to feed or is awake from feed to feed with no possibility of sleep. Keeping her awake after certain feeds is impossible (we've tried everything) and then getting to her sleep at other times seems futile (tried the swing, glider, bouncer – she's just awake in those instead.)I've tried just letting her cry during naps but she'll just stay awake in her crib and cry the whole time or just be awake the whole time. We do "set the scene" in her nursery. At night she wakes every 2.5 – 3 hours to feed and I can't seem to get her to stretch that out longer. I'm not quite sure what to do but am concerned that she's getting older and going to get stuck like this. One possible issue is we're living with my parents for a short time before moving and they love holding her constantly…where it's quite difficult to watch her cues all of the time. I work from home so it's difficult for me to have her all the time as well. Would LOVE some advice!!!

  24. Anonymous
    October 17, 2012 / 2:14 AM

    PS. Not sure why AIM as an open ID left my name as a long string of numbers but my name is Savannah (see above question).Thank you!!

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    January 10, 2015 / 4:58 PM

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